Thursday, April 02, 2009

“Black Label, Revisited”

c. 2009 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

It was a hopeful spring day in Geauga.

I’d been crisscrossing the county since dawn, checking on shops that were carrying some of my Icehouse Books in their on-the-shelf inventory. With each visit, I became more hungry than the last. And more even ready to quench my thirst.

When evening arrived, I had worked my way back to Thompson. The fading sun seemed lonely in a sky filled with streaks of orange and red. Yet it hovered briefly as I paused at the Montville Country Store.

Jenna, a friend from the long-lost Fisher’s Big Wheel in Chardon, stood behind the register. She was tall and colorful, like a California model. Her smile filled the room with an enduring glow of satisfaction.

I nodded a greeting, but headed for the beverage section. On the way, I grabbed a bag of barbecue potato chips. Fatigue made me impatient. I wanted to find my selections, and be gone!

Their beer cooler was full of flavorful alternatives. But it offered little inspiration. I read through familiar labels marked with brands like Miller, Budweiser, and Coors. Then, a brewing relic met my eyes. One closely tied to the Cleveland of yesteryear… Carling Black Label.

I silently stood in front of the cooler, pondering.

Jenna appeared from around the corner. Her costume jewelry glistened with each step.
“Did you need some help?” she asked, showing puzzlement.

I pointed toward the case. “You’ve got Carling Black Label beer. Really?”

She giggled. “Umm, yes. Really.”

My voice went hoarse. “It used to be brewed right here, on Lake Erie. Did you know that?”

Her eyes went wide. “My father used to talk about drinking Black Label out of stubby bottles and watching Ghoulardi on television.”

I bowed my head, reverently. “That was a different era…”

“Yes it was,” my stylish friend agreed.

“But thanks to your store, we can have that taste all over again,” I mused.

She sighed. “Actually, I’d rather have a margarita!”

I reached for a red twelve-pack. “Not me! I’ll stay with the traditional choice.” My hands cradled the chilled carton of suds.

Jenna wrinkled her nose. “Suit yourself. Did you need anything else today?”

“Just a copy of The Maple Leaf,” I grinned.

During my homeward drive, I fumbled through stations on the radio dial. A folksy tune had begun to take shape in my head:

“I’m gonna get me a twelve-pack of Black Label
Drink with friends as long as I’m able…”

I pulled over and jotted down lyrics on an envelope. Blue-collar karma was at work. Across the vastness of expired days, spirits from the bygone northcoast were reaching out to me, with melodic inspiration:

“Gonna get me a twelve-pack of Black Label
Leave my empties under the table…”

When I arrived home, the house was empty.

It took a moment to remember that my wife had taken our daughters on a family outing with the neighbors. Liz, Soccer Fairy and Leigh were going to Middlefield for ice cream. Amily and Minda from next door decided to tag along for the evening. It was a junior ‘girls night out.’

The silence made me brave.

After taking our dogs outside, I retreated to the home office. My acoustic guitar was waiting. I strummed a few lazy chords, and finished my composition:

“I’m gonna get me a twelve-pack of Black Label
Drink with friends as long as I’m able
Swim my way to another time
Gonna get me a twelve-pack of Black Label
Leave my empties under the table
And finish up with jerky and pork rinds
Gonna time-slip to old Cleveland
When the town could do no wrong
Gonna ride across the lakeshore
Till everybody’s heard my song
Gonna get me a twelve-pack of Black Label
Watch ‘The Tribe’ on digital cable
And count those cans until the next sunrise”

I repeated the song in it’s completed form, while our canine contingent looked on in awe. Before long Riley, our Black Lab, was howling along with his own cheerful vocal inflections. Then, the cats began to meow in protest.

Together, we sounded like a ragged chorus of street performers.

I had just finished the last verse when a shout came from the living room.

“What are you doing in there??”

Everyone went silent. It was Liz.

“Rodneyyyy!” my wife squawked. “Are you having a party in there?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Just working on new material.”

“Working??” she said in disbelief.

“Hey,” I interjected. “Where are the girls?”

Her face reddened. “Leigh and Soccer Fairy are with their friends next door. Don’t change the subject!”

I shook my head. “Subject?”

“Were you giving a concert for the pets?” she chirped.

I put the guitar back into its case. “Just writing in the moment. I got a bit of inspiration from a drive to Montville, today.”

She laughed out loud. “Were you singing about… beer?”

“Yes,” I confessed. “Carling Black Label.

Her amusement deepened. “Is that something new?”

I took a long breath. “No, not new at all really. Haven’t you ever heard the ‘Hey Mabel, Black Label’ slogan?”

She stared into space. “Huh? Who’s Mabel? Somebody’s grandmother?”

I groaned. “She was a fictional barmaid. Her first appearance was with a sportswriter in an ad on WXEL channel 9, right here in Cleveland.”

Liz was stunned. “You’re making this up… right?”

“No,” I disagreed. “It’s all part of local history.”

“Liar!” she said, accusingly. “This is like ‘The Tube Farm’ or your history of ‘The Burton Daily Bugle.’ Admit it, Rodney!”

After walking to the kitchen, I opened the refrigerator door. With dramatic flair, I plucked the twelve-pack out of its seclusion behind a head of lettuce. My voice swelled in a theatrical crescendo.

“I give you… BLACK LABEL BEER!!”

My wife folded her arms. “That looks like something an old man would drink.”

I nodded. “You are correct, good madam. An old man, or a young laborer…or a captain of industry, or a head of state…this brew will satisfy anyone!”

She frowned. “How much was it? A dollar less than Milwaukee’s Best?”

“Not exactly,” I chuckled. “The beer cost six dollars and twenty-nine cents.”

Liz narrowed her eyes. “Oh Rodneyyy!”

“That’s a bargain,” I observed. “Refreshment and inspiration, all in one twelve-pack carton…”

Her expression softened. “So, you’re going to write about that stuff in the newspaper?”

“Of course!” I cheered.

“Can’t you come up with something more… normal?” she gasped.

My embarrassment was obvious. “I’ve got my own style. Giving that up would be career suicide. Don’t you understand?”

“What I understand is… it’s time for a pot of coffee!” she yawned.

I returned to my guitar while she puttered in the kitchen. My brew melody filled the air, once more:

“Gonna get me a twelve-pack of Black Label
Watch ‘The Tribe’ on digital cable
And count those cans until the next sunrise!”

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